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Childish questions for Jane Goodall

By Ed O'Keefe

Officials picked at least three children to ask Jane Goodall questions after her speech at the Interior Department on Friday, despite the presence of several adults with hands in the air who wanted to ask the famed animal expert about the Obama administration's decision to keep gray wolves off the endangered species list.

Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall spoke at the Department of Interior last Friday.

One child asked Goodall about space aliens, another said she agreed with Goodall's remarks, while a third young inquisitor asked how he could make the world a better place, according to an adult who attended the speech and wanted to ask a question. Adults were also called on, but Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Thomas L. Strickland, who moderated the event, appeared to seek out children.

Goodall appeared Friday at Interior headquarters to receive the first Secretary's Lifetime Achievement Award and to speak about her new book, "Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued From the Brink." As colleague Al Kamen noted last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar invited headquarters staff to attend the event via e-mail.

Following her remarks, Strickland asked the crowd for questions.

"Despite raised hands, [Strickland] searched the audience as if he saw none, then called on a child who happened to be there. He asked about space aliens," said Suzanne Sutton, a math tutor and writer from Rockville, who attended the event with her daughter, a Ph.D. fellow at USAID.

Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff confirmed that the young adult asked about space aliens, "but if you don't let kids and young adults imagine goofy things then they would never learn to be creative, intelligent adults," she said in an e-mail. There were approximately seven people called on, Barkoff said: three adults and four children.

Sutton and her daughter, Genevieve Maricle, dispute the Barkoff's numbers.

Goodall also attended a reception in her honor after the speech and spoke individually with several audience members there, Barkoff noted. The department did not -- and does not -- pre-screen questions for public events, she said.

What upsets Sutton, Maricle and others in attendance is that they think Goodall's speech merited a more thoughtful Q&A session. They also think Interior officials avoided calling on adults to avoid a conversation about Salazar's decision on gray wolves. Several environmental groups expressed disappointment with the decision when it was announced last March.

"Salazar's background as a rancher worried a lot of people, so I think a lot of us were curious to hear from this expert on extinction, and, outside of politics, if this decision has scientific validity we might not see," Sutton said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to remove the wolves from the list during the final months of the Bush administration. Salazar delayed the ruling, but then approved it in March, crediting efforts to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s.

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 16, 2009; 1:37 PM ET
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By the tone of this article one would think there are no space aliens.

Posted by: jethro1 | November 16, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

And what did the three grown-ups ask?

And what were Dr. Goodall's responses?

And how is it that with a total of 7 people asking questions, the spokesperson was able to count only to "approximately"?

Posted by: edallan | November 16, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

The adjective is wrong. The children asked questions appropriate to their age, so the banner should be "Children question
Jane Goodall." When adults or adolescents ask age-inappropriate (or better said, stupid) questions, then the adjective childish is correct.

Posted by: Aquarius1 | November 16, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

This is the reason:

Our government doesn't want tough questions on issues affecting EITHER the environment or animals. Allow only kids to ask questions and you pretty much ensure softballs.

Doesn't matter who is in power. Government thinks the concerns of those who care about the planet's other creatures are a joke, and frankly, they are when corporate money basically tells all politicians when to take a um, trip to the little boy's room.

The Obama Administration has been nothing but disappointment on the issue of animal protection.

Posted by: lilifreak | November 16, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

The bottom line here is that exactly what the thwarted questioners perceived was going on. A bureaucrat was doing what he has done in the past- finding a way to avoid being on the spot and brushing off pertinent inquiries. This skill must have made him look good to his superiors in the previous administration, when they were raping the environment and despoiling the nation's natural heritage. The reporter is right to report this. Hiding behind children! Not responding to interested voters whose taxes pay his salary.

Posted by: roblevi | November 16, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Tempest, meet teapot.

This isn't a teabag town meeting.

Posted by: bs2004 | November 16, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I attended the talk and heard only one adult question from the floor, a woman asking how to engage children on these topics. The Dept claims there were three adult questions? It is including the moderator, Mr. Strickland, who asked his own question, (a good question about what she had learned about mothering in chimpanzees and humans). There were no other adult questions taken from attendees on the floor, so perhaps they are referring to Ken Salazar, as the third, when he asked her to please step forward to receive her award.

After Al Kamen's Washington Post article on Friday reporting Ken Salazar's memo to Interior employees to refrain from asking controversial questions, it did seem like only calling on kids was a good way to ensure this. And it wasn't easy, since there were well over 500 adults in the room, and maybe 20 kids. I wondered if the kid were encouraged to ask questions, because each seemed to be trying hard to formulate something quickly. It also seemed odd that they stopped the questions with so much time left on the clock.

Posted by: fluxion24 | November 17, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

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